by Jay A. McCalla
No different from the raceway fan who secretly hopes for a crash or a bullfighting devotee who’s looking for bloodshed, political junkies come most alive when disaster threatens to strike a powerful pol.
Junkies, like myself, are animated by conflict and comeuppance.
And so it is my confession that Aug. 5, 2016, was like Christmas morning. That’s the day the FBI dropped a net over labor leader John Dougherty’s entire world.
I’ve met Doc a few times and heard him speak twice. Everything I hear is that he’s a very good husband to his long ailing wife and a loving father.
But Doc is so very much more. He’s a political juggernaut – spending tens of millions of union dollars – who controls a majority of City Council, elected a Philadelphia mayor and helped his brother get a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Given his wealth and reach, he’s become a political system all his own. By raiding his home, office, sister’s home, shore house, bar and the office and home of protégé Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon, the FBI has signaled their intention to dismantle that system.
While I’m wisely agnostic on Doc’s duteousness to the law, the implications of this raid are vast and I delight in reviewing them.
For all of 2016, Doc has demonstrated a consistent control of City Council, surpassing and supplanting Council President Darrell Clarke, its de jure leader.
Clarke wanted Councilperson Bill Greenlee to be Council’s Majority Leader. Doc wanted Henon. Henon was elected. Clarke called Mayor Kenney’s soda tax “ridiculous.” Doc supported it. The tax passed, leading Dougherty to publicly taunt Clarke about his declining relevance.
One can assume a broad grin was the order of the day at Camp Clarke as their adversaries were publicly shamed and existentially rattled. Let’s all watch to see if Clarke is really tough and calls for Henon to step down as Majority Leader until he’s cleared by the FBI.
That would be “hardball.”
The raids seem to focus on how Dougherty channels union money into political activities and may inhibit his heretofore very aggressive spending.
After his home was searched, Doc boasted “I don’t make rookie mistakes,” but only the most reckless person would proceed in business-as-usual mode without regard to this new, very hot microscope.
It’s conceivable this juggernaut will become less “jugger” and more naught, with less money to spread around. This is the real threat to Doc. His power is based solely on his unfettered ability to reach into union treasuries.
The afternoon of this dazzling FBI sweep, Mayor Kenney was clobbered with questions about the raids and their nature. He had no answers, but the deluge of questions made plain the media doesn’t see the mayor as his own man.
As Doc generated millions for his candidacy, Kenney needs to hope Doc can continue to lay his hands on union cash. He’ll need millions more in about 2.5 years.
A tangential beneficiary of the FBI raids is DA Seth Williams.
Former Councilperson Marian Tasco has made little secret of her interest in fielding a candidate against Williams. Prior to the raid, she had forged an operational relationship with Doc where he supported her two candidates for City Council. She, in turn, supported Kenney.
If Tasco were to succeed in fielding any candidate, she’d need Doc’s wealth. With these new, possible constraints, Williams will likely not have to worry about a well-funded challenger.
Particularly bewildered will be the elected officials who were previously sponsored by former Congressman Chaka Fattah. As Fattah’s ability to fund his loyalists declined, some grew closer to Doc in the last council election. Their life raft may have a leak.
The feds have an excellent track record of nailing and jailing Philly pols from Abscam to U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah with a busload of Councilpeople and state senators in between.
This is why we junkies (uh, analysts) are all atwitter. It’s not quite the war between principalities described in Holy Scripture, but it’s pretty darned close.